Sunday 29 June 2014

Head Games

At my happiest on a sunny day on the Awe. Photo by Ben McKeown.

It's been a long time since I hopped in a boat. The last time was with my friend Astrid last June, when I took a deep breath and launched back onto the awesome River Garry. It might even be my favourite river - big, bouncy, and every rapid memorable. I always see it as a challenge to make my way down it without swimming, and if I manage then I know my paddling is in OK form. Adding to the fun is the number of people bumbling down in front and behind, particularly at Wet West, and the friends alongside me. There's always enough carnage to feel that I alone wouldn't be in the spotlight should I flip. Yet it's been a year since then, and my boat FantaBucket has been ignored. Poor FantaBucket.

I guess it's fair to say that I have a love-hate relationship with paddling. Well, perhaps "hate" is too strong a word, but I certainly fall in and out of love with the sport. And once I've fallen out of the habit of getting out regularly, I find it very hard to persuade myself to go again. I worry that over the time I haven't been boating, I'll have lost what few skills I had, and that something terrible will happen. I think I've heard this feeling referred to as "the fear" before. It's funny how it's something that seems to grow on people too. When I started boating it was all laughs, and swims were no big deal. Yet over time, swims became something entirely different. All manner of concerns pestered my brain - what if I can't get out of my boat? What if I get stuck in a strainer, or pinned upside down? And alongside that was always the worry that I was being a pain in the arse. Someone would be chasing me, helping to haul my boat out of the river, patiently waiting while I struggle to empty the heavy brute, and persuading me that it's all good and to hop back on the river and continue downstream. Yup, swims are a pain in the backside.

Put frankly, I am a terrible sufferer of head games.

Nerves showing as I follow Sandy down a rapid on the Findhorn. Photo by Ben McKeown.

At University there was always someone encouraging me that I am capable of that grade 4 rapid, telling me "go on, else you'll be pissed later that you didn't try", and suddenly -  yes! I can do this! I go for it, and on many occasions I get to the bottom and it's like a weight's been lifted, and I get that amazing feeling of accomplishment that I really got something out of the day. Other days I'd be following someone down a new, unknown and more technical rapid and "the fear" would become too much for me, and before I knew it I'd be upside down. There's no calm in me to even comprehend trying a roll - in a split second my hand's pulled the grab loop and I'm out, taking in the big, panicked gasp of air. Those days would lead me to wonder what I was playing at. I'd spend the rest of the outing a big ball of stress, the enjoyment of the adventure sucked out of me.

Over the past year or two, once Uni was done and dusted and I left the dear Canoe Club behind, I've come to accept what kind of boater I am, and what I want to get out of whitewater kayaking. I'm not fearless. My roll remains hopeless after years of practice. But that doesn't mean I can't still enjoy the sport. Johnie Gall, the wonderful creator of the blog Dirtbag Darling, described it as being a "perpetual beginner", and I love that expression.  I've come to realise that my kind of river is the more mellow kind. Ideally, grade 2 and 3 to keep me on my toes. I no longer want to feel bad if I choose to walk round something. I want to feel that I made the right decision for how I'm feeling and how I'm paddling. I want to be able to hop back on the river with a smile on my face. More than anything, I want to defeat my head games.

Good river, good weather and a good group. What more can you ask for? Photo by Ben McKeown.

Lately, I've come to miss paddling. I miss seeing the world from a different view, and bouncing over waves with a big smile on my face. I miss being on the river with friends. And I miss that tired, accomplished feeling I get after a day of adventuring. Don't fear FantaBucket, I will get back out again, and I will smile my way down a river again!

Thoughts by Rachael Haylett, whose thanks go out to all the people who have put up with her head games and swims over the years.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Paddling, Racing and Breaking Stuff in Whistler!

Katrina Van Wijk on 50/50 with Alyssa Salloum - -  Photo: Adrian Kiernan
Winter in Whistler came later than usual this year (or so I'm told) but when it came it really snowed. I thought winter would be a hard act to follow. Its tricky to imagine any ski resort in the summer. When you are used to constantly checking the forecast; praying for snow and heading to the gondola at six a.m. on a powder day in the dark, its hard to think about summer. However a little over two months ago, I took my snowboard boots off for the last time and I haven't looked back. At first there was still two feet of snow on the ground and the water was ice cold. But in the last few months I have found myself swapping shifts and taking as much time off work as possible as one opportunity after another comes up to paddle a new and exciting river or to take part in some cool race or festival.

Hector on the Ashlu double drop. Photo: Francois Brassard 
After getting familiar with some of the whistler classics such as the Callaghan and the Cheakamus I met Ash and got to head down to the Ashlu for a weekend. We set up camp at the put in above the 50/50 waterfall high up in the mountains above Squamish. The Box Canyon is hands down the most beautiful river I have ever paddled. A steep sided committing gorge packed full of awesome drops and rapids. Over the two days we managed six laps but I still only ran the intimidating 50/50 drop twice.

Ashlu Box. Photo: Adrian Kiernan

Ashlu Box. Paddler: Katrina Van Wijk. Photo: Adrian Kiernan

Ashlu Box. Paddler: Geoff Price. Photo: Francois Brassard 
Shortly after the weekend on the Ashlu came the Whistler GoFest. GoFest was set up as an attempt to change may long weekend in Whistler, from a weekend which traditionally has a reputation for violence, thanks to the influx of city based gangs. There were a bunch of events including a down river race on the Cheakamus. The Upper Cheak is a continious section of class 4+ with a cool waterfall at the top. The race included a down river race (ca. twelve mins) to seed for the head to heads.   

Cheakamus River Race. Paddler: Andraž Krpič. Photo: Claire Lang
Cheakamus River Race. Paddler: Me. Photo: Ollie Chew 
In the down river race I came eighth with a pretty respectable time. After the long race the winner was to be decided in a series of head to head races over the last three rapids. I made it through my first round but was totally out classed by Andraz in the second round. Andraz then went on to smash all the competition and beat Joules in the finals to take home $600! A good bit of river karma must have been on his side as he was the only paddler to stop during the seeding to rescue a boat.

Cheakamus River Race. Paddler: Corey Boux. Photo: Claire Lang

Cheakamus River Race. Paddler: Me and David Sitar. Photo: Claire Lang
My main paddling partner has been Phil another englishman, without him I would littlerally just sit at home doing nothing! One morning before the Cheakamus race he sprung a surprise film crew on me and Ash. The edit was part of the GoPro GoShow competition and won Zach Moxley the videographer a big cash prize!

Puntledge River Fest. Paddler: Ash Bullivant. Photo: Dave Prothero Photography
Through Phil and an eight a.m. Cheakamus lap I met Corey May and ended up heading with him and Dan to Vancouver Island to the Puntledge River Festival. A super chilled event, it was fun to paddle the upper and get to run the slides and drops on offer. I did however manage to break my paddle, incidentally the friday before I also broke my downhill hell of an expensive weekend!

Puntledge River Fest. Photo: Dave Prothero Photography
Two weeks later the random adventures continued when Laura one of my friends from work messaged me to say a mountain bike racer friend of hers was looking for a kayaker to take part in the Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Some frantic schedule rearranging was done and two days later I was heading down to Vancouver. I met Colin the mountain biker on Saturday afternoon and stayed with him and his girl friend Alicia in his beautiful house on Bowen Island. I only met Colin our runner the day of the race, we weren't 100% sure he was coming.....

Red Bull Divide and Conquer, mass start. Photo: Dan Carr/Red Bull Content Pool

Colin working his way up the field to put us in third.
Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo: Mason Mashon/Red Bull Content Pool
The race consisted of six thousand foot double ascent of grouse mountain for the runners, followed by a thirty kilometre mountain bike ride on Vancouver's legendarily tough north shore trails and rounded off with a ten kilometre paddle down the class three Capilano river and out in to the harbour. The Capilano was really, really low...a bit of a bump scrape. The normal minimum I am told is three on the gauge, but the river was at one! This meant the course went from fourty minutes to almost an hour of mostly flat water, it was brutal.

Connor launching a couple of minutes before me. I managed to reshape the front of my boat.
Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo: Mason Mashon/Red Bull Content Pool

Cedric chasing Corey on the brutal beach run after the 10km paddle.
Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo: Mason Mashon/Red Bull Content Pool
After the run we were in forth but Colin managed to put his foot down and gained about fifteen minutes during his section. This put me in third, with second just in front. I was pretty jealous of the RPMs the first two paddlers had but I pushed hard in my mamba and kept the team in front in my sights most of the way. By the time we were coming in across the harbour I knew I couldn't catch the guy in front and there was no way I could loose third place but I tried to carry on pushing hard and came in about a minute off the fastest time (not bad for a creek boater!).

Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo: Mason Mashon/Red Bull Content Pool

Third place saw us on the podium (with me looking like a massive goofball), taking home $750 in prize money and a nice North Face Sleeping bag! That pretty much paid for the parts I needed to fix my all I need is to get that paddle fixed.


P.S. A huge thanks to everyone who has taken me paddling over the last few months and also to Immersion Research for their continuing friendship and support.